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Education Since ABI:
I'm sitting in a huge, so it seems, classroom among many unfamiliar faces. Everything is different, these people, surroundings, and circumstances. I'm further away from the security I know, my home, from the people I know. And now, further away from myself, since my brain injury. But my dreams are still very close, I want to finish school.
My first thought, what am I doing back at school? Do I even belong here? The doctors said I wouldn't be able to. I know I'm going to get lost on campus--Lost trying to find my way, and lost trying to keep on-track with all the people, classes, procedures, and schoolwork. My doubts were mounting, but I remember my dream--I want an education! That's why I'm here at school. Now comes my big concern, most influential and effecting, how do I communicate my needs to instructors and to other students?
The first week of class I acted like a turtle. I sat, almost hiding, very quiet, in the back. Being slower, I missed a lot of material and discussion. Then trying to do my school-work later was time and soul consuming, very frustrating and confusing. Where did my 4.0 scholarship abilities go? And exams were coming. My teacher, friends/classmates zipped through the material so quick. "SLOW DOWN!" I kept saying in my head. Of course they couldn't hear this. But in order for me to stay in class with everyone, on track, I had to tell someone in class my (special) needs and abilities. I couldn't B.S. through this. Sometimes I prefer to use the word "different" rather than "special" -- Maybe this word felt further away from "Special Ed." -- It's the same.
I needed help to continue and succeed. Besides the great direction and assistance from DSS outside of class, I needed to tell my teachers. That way we could work together in class. I talked to my instructors: The first time, I tried right after class, quick and painless. But this hurried method ended up confusing- both of us, creating more questions and anxieties. Then I visited during their office hours. This was much more comfortable, personal, and accommodating. One professor and I even walked outside while he smoked his pipe. I introduced myself, my "identification," and what my needs may be for that particular class. I told them and did seek tutors and study groups. I always ended with, "I'm not exactly sure about my abilities, what I can/can't do, but I will be there, and always do my best." Most teachers were fantastic, encouraging, and supportive of my efforts. Once they saw my determined perseverance, they helped me to manage throughout the semester. I say "most" because there are always exceptions. A word of advice, don't let any one teacher (like doctors) dictate what you are able to see or achieve. I was able to succeed, and most importantly, these respected professors came to respect me. And many teachers became my friends.
Communicating my needs to other students was more difficult. I suppose it was harder because I did not want to be different, not discussed, included or excluded because of...Maybe I was afraid of what they might think. But "might and maybe" are powerful fools that show us pictures of things that may never come to be--Don't ever let them dictate to you. As a friend wisely suggested to me, "If you're always looking for monsters under the bed, you'll find them .. even when they're only dust bunnies!" In other words, don't put meaning into what isn't there. So I approached and treated them like regular people, and so they treated me Great! There were a few exceptions, as in all other things too, I feel like some were just waiting for me to lose it and flip-out. But when the students, my colleagues, saw my spirit, determination, and efforts, they wanted to study together. Study groups are a great means of class preparation, friendships, and life enlightenment.
Throughout such means, both in and outside of class, I was able to succeed. I graduated with a BA, CSU Chico and finally MS, CSU Long Beach in Special Education. Now (1996) I am teaching at the same school for adults with brain injury at which I was a student nine years before. I am working with the teacher who was first my teacher--A great feeling. And school is great! I love teaching. I've known, up close, the gifts that such a role/profession and partnership can bring into each student's life. I chose to pursue such a course that would enable me to help make education a reality for other survivors.
My first days of class, as teacher, were last week. I am thrilled! Besides my beginning nervousness, it felt awesome. I am so proud and thrilled to be teaching. And what was even more exciting was in the classroom. During the introductions we had at the beginning of the class, I communicated where, what I had come from and to. At first, I was afraid and wondered if I could share this, how it might be taken? But I felt I owe it to them, I respect them. And I'm so glad that I shared. As if I opened a window, my students could immediately identify with my/their own struggles for an education. In such honesty, they respect me, my efforts, and my direction, to ultimately enable them. We will work together. This will be a great semester.
I cannot explain what an awesome thrill it is to be teaching. Yes I am excited for myself, but more importantly, I am excited for the students. I know the meaning of an education, some of the steps to get there, and the values it will bring. Things I would emphasize throughout this process are honesty and perseverance. Both as student and as teacher, I just learned another lesson about the power of honesty from my students that seems to apply everywhere. By our communication, we teach and enable each other.
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